Tag Archives: degree

The Unstoppable MOOCs


Richard Vedder

Although difficult to measure, it is unlikely that higher
education has had any productivity advance in the 50 years since I finished
college. Economists like Princeton’s William Baumol have argued that rising
college costs are inevitable, given inherent limitations on reducing the cost
of disseminating knowledge -only so many people can fit into a room to hear a

Yet on-line education, including massive open on-line
courses (MOOCs), are changing that. Prestigious universities like Harvard,
M.I.T., and Stanford are working with various providers to offer courses taught
by well known and often very effective professors. Coursera, Udacity, edX and
others are providing increasing numbers of courses where students can learn.
They join other low-cost options such as provided by StraighterLine and the
extensive, high quality free offerings of the Saylor Foundation, a pioneer in
the free open source movement. Khan Academy also offers materials at all levels
of learning, and some of those materials are used by college providers.

Continue reading The Unstoppable MOOCs

Universities Are Vocational Schools

Why do students go to college? A new poll has a one-word
answer: money. That’s one of the findings in a broad Gallup survey of college admissions officers done for Inside
Higher Ed
. The admissions officers seem to believe that those planning to
attend college view it largely as a signaling device that directs the best and
brightest young Americans to the best and highest-paying jobs. It is not
primarily about acquiring knowledge (“human capital”), critical learning or
leadership skills, or better perceiving the difference between right and wrong,
but more about achieving the American Dream of a comfortable, moderately
affluent life.

To cite one statistic, 99 percent of admission directors
at public four-year colleges agreed or strongly agreed that “parents of
applicants place high importance on the ability of degree programs to help
students get a good job.” With regards to the prospective students themselves,
“only” 87 percent of the counselors agree that getting a good job is
important/very important.  Most of the
counselors also agree, at all forms of higher education institutions, that
their schools are putting more emphasis on job placement.

Continue reading Universities Are Vocational Schools

Higher Education’s ‘Obesity’ Problem

ACTA crowd.jpg

Open a marketing brochure for any college or university
in the United States and you’ll find an info-graphic touting the variety and
number of degree programs that the institution offers.  The more options, the rationale goes, the
more likely a student will find a desired specialty.  The distinction between programs can be
subtle, for instance “Music, General” versus “Musical Theatre,” or
Agricultural Engineering” versus “Agronomy and Crop

But the dreary fact is: higher education is in the midst
of a major financial crisis. 
Institutions’ bond ratings are falling and resources are in short
supply.   Boards of trustees must  figure out how to do more and better with
less. While administrative costs have to be examined, they are only part of the
problem.  According to former president
of the University of Northern Colorado and co-founder of the Lumina Foundation
Robert C. Dickeson, “[t]he failure of governing boards to focus on academic
programs is arguably the single greatest cause of overspending.”

This month the American Council of Trustees and Alumni
(ACTA) is sending Dr. Dickeson’s guide,
Setting Academic Priorities: A Guide to
What Boards of Trustees Can Do
to ACTA’s network of more than 13,000
trustees around the country. It provides governing boards with a framework for
establishing academic program review policies that direct resources to
mission-critical areas of their institutions without neglecting students’ needs.
 Of course, achieving this goal must
entail consolidating some academic programs into larger, more cost-effective
units or eliminating them.  

Continue reading Higher Education’s ‘Obesity’ Problem

The 12 Reasons College Costs Keep Rising

When asked the question, “Why do colleges keep raising tuition fees?” I give answers ranging from three words (“because they can”), to 85,000 (my book, Going Broke By Degree). Avoiding both extremes, let’s evaluate two rival explanations for the college cost explosion, followed by 12 key expressions that add more detail.

Continue reading The 12 Reasons College Costs Keep Rising

How Academics Concocted a New ‘Middle Class’

middle_class.jpgTo hear politicians tell it, the college diploma is the guaranteed gateway to middle-class life, so everybody should probably go to college. The argument seems self-evident–over a lifetime, college graduates far out-earn those without a degree ($2.1 million, supposedly), so go to college, live the American Dream. Unfortunately, as many recent college graduates have discovered, diplomas no longer guarantee success. A Bureau of Labor Statistics study, for example, reported that in 1992 some 119,000 waiters and waitresses had college degrees. But by 2008 this figure had soared to 318,000. The study also found similar increases of under-employment in other low-level occupations. In 2010 the unemployment rate for college graduates was the highest since 1970.

Continue reading How Academics Concocted a New ‘Middle Class’

A Funny Book about Worthless Degrees

“Here are some [college] degrees that cost you roughly $30,000 in tuition, their much cheaper replacements, and the savings you’d realize:

                  Degree                                  Replacement                                        Savings

                  Foreign Languages                 Language
Software                               $29,721

                  Philosophy                             Read
Socrates                                    $29,980

                  Women’s Studies                   Watch
Daytime TV                               $30,000

                  Journalism                             Start
a blog                                          $30,000

…Since none of these degrees help increase your employability, you might as well avoid these majors and do it on your own.”

The above is an excerpt from one of the funnier paragraphs
in “Worthless: The Young Person’s Indispensable Guide to Choosing the
Right Major” (Paric Publications), Aaron Clarey’s hilarious primer
for college students who would like to work as something other than nannies and
theater interns after graduation.

Continue reading A Funny Book about Worthless Degrees

Are Too Many People Going to College?

These are the opening statements of a luncheon debate co-sponsored by the Manhattan Institute’s Center for the American University and the John William Pope Center for Higher Education Policy.  The debate, held January 11 in New York City, pitted George Leef, research director of the Pope Center, against Peter Sacks, economist and author of Tearing Down the Gates: Confronting the Class Divide in American Education.  The moderator was Howard Husock, Manhattan Institute’s vice president for policy research.

YES–George Leef

In my time this afternoon, I hope to persuade you that the United States has greatly oversold higher education.

We have done that through heavy government subsidies and extravagant rhetoric from both politicians and higher education leaders that created the impression that high-paying jobs were waiting for anyone who completed a college degree.

Just as we caused a destructive, resource-wasting housing bubble by pushing the idea that home ownership was good for almost everyone, so have we caused a resource-wasting higher education bubble.  Large numbers of people have gone to college and obtained degrees costing a great deal of money and time, only to find that there aren’t nearly enough of those good jobs to go around.

The analogy to the housing bubble isn’t perfect, however.  At least the houses that were built were generally of good construction.

In our higher education bubble, many of the educations purchased by students are the equivalent of houses without roofs.  Many Americans today graduate with a college education in name only, having gained little or nothing in useful skills and knowledge.

It’s common in public policy issues for the enthusiasts for some idea to exaggerate the benefits that will supposedly come from their favored policy while underestimating if not entirely overlooking the costs and new problems it will cause.  That was the case with the housing bubble and it’s equally so with our great leap forward to get more and more people through college.

The first benefit of going to college is that it supposedly leads to higher lifetime earnings, since on average, those who have college degrees earn significantly more than do people who don’t.

It is a mistake to assume that just because, on average, people who obtained college degrees in the past have enjoyed higher earnings, individuals who will get college degrees in the future will also enjoy the same “earnings premium.”

We know that many college graduates have to accept jobs that don’t call for any academic preparation whatsoever, and don’t pay more just because the worker happens to have a degree.

Last year, the Center for College Affordability and Productivity released a paper documenting the large percentages of people who have bachelors degrees (or higher) working in jobs that most high schoolers could easily do: customer service reps, cashiers, taxi drivers, and so on.

Quoting from that report.  “More than one third of current working graduates are in jobs that do not require a degree and the proportion appears to be rising rapidly….60 percent of the increased college graduate population between 1992 and 2008 ended up in these lower skill jobs.”

The labor market is glutted with people holding college credentials.  Just because a country “produces” a lot of college grads does not mean there will be commensurate jobs for them.

A second common belief is that it’s advantageous for a country to have a high rate of college completion because it improves economic competitiveness.  Conversely, a country that falls behind in this regard faces a dim economic future.

In an address to Congress in 2009, President Obama latched onto that idea, calling for a national goal of being first in the world in terms of college graduates by 2025.

The trouble with that notion is that there is no necessary connection between a nation’s “educational attainment” level and the vitality of its economy.

In her book Does Education Matter?–Myths about education and economic growth, University of London professor Alison Wolf examined the supposed connection between education and economic growth.  She wrote, “Two naive beliefs have a distorting influence (on public policy) – the belief in a simple, direct relationship between the amount of education in a society and its future growth rate, and the belief that governments can fine-tune education expenditures to maximize that rate of growth. Neither is correct.”

Wolf provided examples of nations that have “invested” heavily in higher education yet have listless economies (such as Egypt) and others that do little to promote higher education yet enjoy very productive and growing economies (such as Switzerland).

Conclusion: putting lots of people through college is neither a necessary nor a sufficient condition for rapid economic growth.

Now I’ll mention two costs.

One cost of the expansion of college has been a corresponding decline in academic standards.

As college enrollments rose in the 70s, 80s, and 90s, K-12 standards were falling, with the result that an ever-increasing proportion of college students entered with weak academic skills and often an attitude that was indifferent toward learning.

In a 1997 article, Montana State English professor Paul Trout called them “disengaged” students and explained how they put downward pressure on academic rigor and upward pressure on grades – to keep them content and enrolled.

The National Assessment of Adult Literacy provides evidence of falling college standards.  In the 1992 study, only 40 percent of college graduates were assessed as “proficient” in prose literacy; by the 2003 study, that figure had fallen to just 31 percent.

And putting a quantitative peak on the mountain of anecdotal evidence that many students just coast along to their degrees, last year’s book Academically Adrift showed that a large percentage of college students learn essentially nothing.

A second cost is credential inflation.  The more college grads in the labor force, the more employers require job applicants to have college credentials, even for jobs that call for no academic preparation.

James Engell and Anthony Dangerfield wrote in their book Saving Higher Education in the Era of Money, “The United States has become the most rigidly credentialized society in the world.  A BA is required for jobs that by no stretch of imagination require two years of full-time training, let alone four.”

Credential inflation is hard on poor people who are prevented from competing for jobs they could do and hardest of all on poor people who spend money they need for other things on college credentials, only to wind up in low-pay jobs anyway.

I hope you’ll now agree that we’ve oversold college.


NO–Peter Sacks

Are too many people going to college?
This question seems simple but we can look at in through many lenses.  From what or whose perspective are there too many college goers?  From an individual’s point of view at the present time?  From a societal perspective now and in the long run?  From a macroeconomic viewpoint?
First, let me make one thing clear.  It’s argued that a substantial number of college-goers — who should not be going to college — would be better off seeking associate’s degrees or other types of vocational credentials that would help them find good jobs.  This is the updated version of the old, “College isn’t for everyone” argument.
Okay, college isn’t for everyone.  Besides striking me as a bit paternalistic, to make this claim as an argument that too many people are going to college isn’t really an argument at all because nobody would disagree with the claim that college isn’t for everyone.

No, the real argument here is whether we are over-investing in higher education leading to bachelor’s degrees, and if so, how do we legitimately ration higher education opportunity.  How do we decide who “legitimately” deserves this privilege?

From whatever perspective one chooses, there are not too many people going to college.  In fact, the evidence strongly suggests that the United States is under-investing in higher education.  For the sake of economic development alone, there are actually too few people going to college.
Lately, a number of voices have suggested that too many high school graduates are going to college who shouldn’t be going to college.  According to this argument, we are producing more college graduates than what the labor market can accommodate.  The result, it’s claimed, is a flood of college-educated young people working at relatively low-level jobs.
I believe that this argument of too much college-educated labor supply versus demand — an alleged overmatch problem — is not supported by the evidence.
We’ve all heard the stories of the elevator operator with a master’s degree or the waiter with a Ph.D.  But the data suggests these stories are just that, the seemingly frequent, yet incidental, stories which defy our sensibilities about the purpose of higher education and whether it’s worth the cost.  Even on this narrow aspect of the  supply and demand of labor, the evidence suggests that members of the college-educated workforce are either sufficiently educated or in fact undereducated for their jobs.
That is strike one for the too many going to college argument: Given the education and skill requirements of the U.S. economy now and in the future, this country is largely undereducated for the future.  We are producing too few BA degrees and advanced degrees relative to the skill sets employers actually need and will need.
A second aspect of our question today that is largely ignored in the college-no college debate is the macroeconomic value of higher education investments.
In fact, the evidence suggests than public investments in human capital, including higher education, yield long-term economic rates of return that far exceed most standard investments in technology or capital.  Such excess rates of return, above and beyond rates of return in alternative investments, suggest a massive amount of underinvestment in human capital and a dead loss of untold economic returns due to this underinvestment.
That is strike two for the too many going to college argument: Too few people are going to college because current levels of public investment in human capital are woefully insufficient from a macroeconomic perspective.
Finally, there is an even more vital aspect of this debate question that is rarely discussed in conversations on this issue.

To ask whether too many people are going to college begs another question: If too many people are going to college, then who are these people?  How should we as a society ration a more restricted level of educational opportunity?  If we actually did decide as a nation that too many people are going to college, then how should we fix this problem, and what are the far-reaching implications of this fix?  Are too many kids from wealthy families going to college?  Are there too many college-goers enrolled in social work?  Are too many lower middle class kids seeking higher education?  Whom exactly are we encouraging when they should not be encouraged?

While some critics are quick to say that we should reduce the numbers of college-goers, you can be sure that this point of view would rarely apply to their own sons and daughters.
I think most people in this room are smart enough to know that young people born to families of modest incomes and relatively low levels of education — who already bear the brunt of the lack of college access — will also bear the lion’s share of the burden of any policy to roll back education opportunity.
And there you have it: not just fewer people in general going to college but especially fewer people who can least afford to pay for college.

As the chosen ones, however, students from families who have the ability to pay for admissions slots at universities — which, by the way, would dramatically shrink because of dwindling subsidies —  well these chosen few would become our new, self-perpetuating aristocracy.

At the dinner table, equal opportunity means that parents want their children to have opportunities they never had themselves.  After a few generations of striving, grandparents who had attained no more than a high school diploma now have grandchildren who are doctors, professors, and engineers.  Who in this room doesn’t have stories like that in their families?

Those stories should remind us of who we are and how we got here.  We have what we have because of sacrifices — investments in human capital — that past generations made, for us.

As we speak, the American Dream is already on life support.  Adopt the notion that too many people are going to college, and we kill off the Dream for good.

About All Those STEM Dropouts…

science_lab_students.jpgThe New York Times proclaimed recently that science educators and others are vitally concerned that high dropout rates of students studying math, science, and engineering (the “STEM” disciplines) will imperil our nation’s technological leadership. There is a shortage of people in these fields, it is argued, and efforts to increase numbers are thwarted by dropout rates that run from 40 to as high as 60 percent (for those originally pre-med majors).

I want to make two points. First, the high dropout rates are not only far from surprising; indeed, they should be expected, and we should rejoice that someone in higher education is trying to maintain standards of academic excellence. Second, for well over half of a century, STEM advocates have cried “shortages of key personnel” and “crisis” when none really existed, showing a lamentable lack of scientific objectivity and intellectual honesty in the process. I fear this may be happening again.

Continue reading About All Those STEM Dropouts…

Check Out This Alternative to College

students test results.jpgInstitutions from charter schools to the White House are pushing hard for more young people to go to college, but with almost half of students at four-year colleges destined to leave without a degree, a counter-trend is starting to take hold: a loose coalition of people in the credentialing, training, and grant-making businesses are working to build an alternative to college for young people who are not academically inclined. The new paradigm centers around the National Career Readiness Certificate (NCRC) developed during the 1990s by ACT, the non-profit organization far better known for its SAT-style college-entrance exam. The NCRC and its assorted components and supplements, collectively known as WorkKeys, offer a path to employment success outside the conventional college track.

Scores on the WorkKeys assessments certify to prospective employers that job applicants have mastered enough specific, nationally recognized mental and interpersonal skills to qualify for the jobs they are seeking, no matter where they went to high school, what courses they took, or whether they had any college experience at all. In short, ACT’s NCRC strives to make bypassing college a viable, indeed an optimal choice for those who are either unlikely to succeed academically, or who are just turned off by the prospect of years of higher education. Alternatively, the test can help them get decent jobs while they pursue further specific training that could hoist them into even better ones.

Continue reading Check Out This Alternative to College

Why College Still Matters

A growing chorus of critics says a college education is finished as the ticket to economic success and a middle-class life.

The economy of the future, these critics suggest, actually requires far fewer college-educated citizens, because the U.S. economy is generating tens of thousands of jobs that require little or no higher education. 

In essence, the critics of American higher education policy are challenging the long-standing belief that all U.S. citizens should have a decent chance to pursue a college degree, regardless of what kind of neighborhood they grow up in, what kind of schools are available to them, or whether their parents have university degrees.

Continue reading Why College Still Matters

Is It Fair to Call It a Scam?

Professor Richard Vedder is certainly one of the most knowledgeable — and wisest – commentators on American higher education. So his cautionary remarks should be taken very seriously.
I have one reservation about calling the push for more colleges a “scam.” It is true that some youngsters knew all through college that they wanted to be physicians or lawyers and consequently their first jobs reflected their career objectives. However, many college graduates graduate without a clear notion of what they want to do occupationally or even personally. Some work for a couple of years for Teach for America without planning a lifetime career as teachers. Some take jobs as waiters or waitresses while their career aspirations lie in acting or art, careers notoriously difficult to enter. Therefore I hesitate to interpret several years of low-paid jobs that college graduates as a disconnect between what is learned at college and what college graduates do occupationally in their first jobs. Getting back to teaching, it might be excellent for American education have primary- and secondary-school students taught for four or five years by college graduates who lack teaching experience but have the attractive enthusiasm of youth even though they and their colleagues know that they do not plan to be career teachers. If we keep in mind the difference between “jobs” and “careers,” the fact that college graduates take low-level jobs in the years immediately following graduation is not necessarily a failure of college education or of the graduates themselves.

Kaplan University and the Short-Changing of Minority Women

powell.jpgThe education of black and Hispanic women is very much at stake in the on-going controversy over for-profit colleges. A November 9th story in the New York Times by Tamar Lewin, “Scrutiny and Suits Take Toll on For-Profit Company,” documented potential abuses found at Kaplan University, one of the schools that disproportionately enrolls black female students. Carlos Urquilla-Diaz a former Kaplan administrator, “recalled a PowerPoint presentation showing African-American women who were raising two children by themselves as the company’s primary target. Such women, Mr. Urquilla-Diaz said, were considered most likely to drop out before completing the program, leaving Kaplan with the aid money and no need to provide more services.”
The recruiting tactics of some for-profit colleges are not the only problem. There has been too much emphasis on increasing four-year graduation rates rather than offering alternatives, particularly occupational programs that lead to certification or two-year degrees. The strong evidence for this is summarized in an American Educator lead article, “Beyond One-Size-Fits-All College Dreams.” Earnings among college graduates have become more dispersed, and earnings from many certificate and occupational two-year degrees have risen. As a result, more than 60 percent of those with two-year degrees make more than the lowest 25 percent of four-year college graduates. In this environment, cajoling weakly-performing high school students into focusing their goals on four-year degrees may not be in their best interest.
Many students are well aware of the hurdles they face in seeking four-year degrees. Some enroll in occupational programs but others seek four-year degrees by enrolling in private and public colleges that give them the best chance of reaching their goals. For black students, most identifiable are the Historically Black Colleges (HBCs) but there are many more colleges that serve this role. Black students graduate disproportionately from these schools. In 2006, 19.29 percent of all black female four-year graduates came from the HBCs. In addition, another 19.25 percent of black female graduates came from colleges where black women comprise at least 25 percent of female graduates. As a result, nearly 40 percent of black female graduates came from a small group of colleges that produce only 7.56 percent of all female graduates.

Continue reading Kaplan University and the Short-Changing of Minority Women

On Pigeons, Pells and Student Incentives


Jackson Toby, professor emeritus of sociology at Rutgers and author of the new book, The Lowering of Higher Education in America, delivered this speech yesterday (April 7) at a luncheon in New York City. The luncheon, at the University Club, was sponsored by the Manhattan Institute’s Center for the American University and Minding the Campus.

“Is College Graduation Enough for a Good Job or Do College Graduates Have to Know Something?” That’s the title of one chapter of my new book. And in an effort to illustrate the problems of evaluating what contemporary college graduates know, I began the chapter with the lyrics of “Brush Up Your Shakespeare” from Cole Porter’s 1948 hit musical Kiss Me Kate.
Broadway audiences didn’t necessarily have to know that the musical was based on Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew, but it helped. Porter graduated from Yale nearly a century ago. In that era a Yale graduate—or a graduate of any American university—had to have had some exposure to the plays of Shakespeare, because it was an era during which a college education referred to a corpus of common intellectual experiences. Colleges usually had a core curriculum that all graduates had to take, whatever their major or their interests. “Brush Up Your Shakespeare,” contained references to Homer, English poets, the Greek playwrights Aeschylus and Euripides, a mention of the “Bard of Stratford-on-Avon,” the town where Shakespeare was born, and puns involving titles to several of Shakespeare’s plays: Othello, Anthony and Cleopatra, Much Ado about Nothing, Coriolanus, and A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Members of the audience who did not know at least the titles couldn’t understand fully Porter’s witticisms. Consider a few lines from the lyrics:

Continue reading On Pigeons, Pells and Student Incentives

People Who Never Got a College Degree

Edward Albee, Woody Allen, Maya Angelou, Wally Amos, Jane Austen, Dan Aykroyd, Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Steve Wozniak, Joan Baez, Warren Beatty, David Ben-Gurion, Sonny Bono, Rick Bragg, Richard Branson, Albert Brooks, David Byrne, James Cameron, Raymond Chandler, Coco Chanel, John Cheever, Sean Connery, Walter Cronkite, Daniel Day-Lewis, Michael Dell, Princess Diana, Leonardo DiCaprio, Bob Dylan, Clint Eastwood, Thomas Edison, Harvey Weinstein, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Jane Fonda, Benjamin Franklin, David Geffen, John Glenn, Richard Grasso, Ernest Hemingway, Dustin Hoffman, Ralph Lauren, Alex Haley, Peter Jennings, Doris Lessing, Rush Limbaugh, Abraham Lincoln, Charles Lindbergh, Madonna, Malcolm X, Steve Martin, H.L. Mencken, S.I. Newhouse, Jack Nicholson, Neil Simon, Gwyneth Paltrow, Bob Pittman, Edgar Allan Poe, Wolfgang Puck, Robert Redford, John D. Rockefeller, J.D. Salinger, Margaret Sanger, Dawn Steel, Barbra Streisand, William Howard Taft, Nina Totenberg, Harry S Truman, Ted Turner, Mark Twain, Governor Jesse Ventura, Thomas J. Watson, Walt Whitman, August Wilson, Anna Wintour, Frank Lloyd Wright, Wilbur and Orville Wright.
—from The Faster Times

Be Careful What You Wish For

President Obama’s call for an increase in college graduation rates and the establishment of a $2.5 billion college completion fund begins to address a vexing issue for those of us employed in higher education, namely, how do we make the United States more economically competitive in a world that demands a well-trained, college-educated workforce? The president’s call is welcome. Graduation rates need to increase, especially among under-represented groups and first-generation college students. If we want more Americans to become more competitive in a smaller and smaller “world village,” we must pay attention not only to those who traditionally pursue higher education, but also to those who do not have such a tradition. No doubt, “a high tide lifts all boats.”
However, this insistence on increasing the numbers of college graduates appears to overshadow a more overarching but simpler objective of higher education—to educate rather than graduate students. Consider two statements common in higher education, both of which I have heard in conversation, one with a student, the other with a faculty member (thankfully, not at my current institution, which clearly does focus on educating rather than graduating students).
The first conversation was with a paralegal student I advised when I was an academic dean at a two-year for-profit institution in the western U.S. The conversation went something like:

Continue reading Be Careful What You Wish For

Why Don’t More Graduate

Less than 60 percent of students at our four-year colleges complete their studies and graduate. That depressing statistic has drawn many critics, and now it has occasioned a book, Crossing the Finish Line, by three well-connected members of the academic establishment–William Bowen, Matthew Chingos, and Michael McPherson (hereafter, BCM). The authors obtained some data on individual student performance unavailable to most researchers, uncovered some interesting facts and made some worthwhile observations. The question is, how much light has this effort produced.
BCM base their conclusions largely on a sample of data from a few dozen public universities. Since they are writing about public education, it would have been useful if at least one of the authors had some experience, either as a student or professor, in such an institution at some point in their eight decades of accumulative academic lifetime. Unfortunately, none studied or taught at a public university, meaning that they are not likely fully conversant with the cultural differences between, say, the Ivy League vs. the California State university system. Interestingly, with one exception, even all the announced authors’ book receptions are being held at such private establishment enclaves as Harvard or the Brookings Institution.
At the book’s beginning, BCM talk about the importance of higher college graduation rates to America’s continued economic and educational leadership. We learn that increasing graduation rates is critical in achieving the objective of much larger rates of higher education attainment. BCM give a lot of attention to what they term the “undermatching” of high quality students with lower quality institutions. According to them, in North Carolina alone in 1999 there were about 2,500 undermatched high school seniors. These undermatched students went to lower quality schools than their capabilities suggested were feasible (or to no school at all), and tended to have graduation rates that were perhaps 15 points lower than similarly qualified students going to top-flight public schools (adjusting for other characteristics such as socioeconomic status, the gap was typically closer to 10 points). Assuming the North Carolina numbers are representative of the nation, what these results suggest is that ending undermatching could raise the national graduation rate by something less than one percentage point (e.g.., from about 55 to perhaps 56 percent), a relatively trivial movement.

Continue reading Why Don’t More Graduate

Community Colleges Are Bulging, But…

Cuyahoga Community College expects to see nearly 30,000 students enrolled for credit on its three campuses in Cleveland when it opens for the fall semester late in August, with an additional 30,000 taking non-credit courses for job-training “personal enrichment” (instruction in art, photography, and other hobbies). According to campus officials, the 30,000-strong for-credit student population represents an all-time high: about 20 percent more than the 24,311 for-credit students whom the college reported as enrolled last spring. The projected 6,000-student increase is unprecedented, too; in the spring of 2009, college records show, there were only about 800 more students attending Tri-C, as Clevelanders call their community college, than were on the rolls for the spring of 2008. Chalk up the current surge to the recession, which has suddenly made the $25,000-a-year-tuition typical of U.S. private four-year-colleges look unaffordable to many families (private colleges nationwide have reported lower-than-usual freshman acceptance rates for this fall). Annual tuition at Tri-C is a tenth of that: $2,418. That’s a bargain even compared with tuition costs at Ohio’s public four-year colleges, which charge $8,583 annually on average to state residents.
So it’s perhaps only logical that President Obama, in a July 14 speech at Macomb Community College in Warren, Mich., announced a proposal to invest $12 billion in federal spending in the nation’s community college system, all with the aim of helping an additional 5 million Americans earn degrees and certificates from community colleges over the next 10 years. The president called community colleges the under-appreciated “stepchild of the higher education system” and declared that the money would help workers learn “the skills they need to fill the jobs of the future.” His message seemed designed as a boost to Warren, a recession-battered suburb of Detroit with a 20 percent unemployment rate, but also to millions of other American young people desperate to cut the cost of attending college.

Continue reading Community Colleges Are Bulging, But…

Why Are Graduation Rates So Low?

Of every 100 kids who enter American high schools, only about 20 obtain a bachelor’s degree within a decade. That is why the proportion of adult Americans with baccalaureate degrees is rising relatively slowly, and why the U.S. has fallen behind a number of other nations in the proportion of young adults with college degrees.
There are three points of attrition that keep new high school students from becoming college graduates. Some do not make it through high school. Some high school graduates never go to college. But the largest rate of attrition is seldom discussed: 40-50 percent of those who matriculate in colleges and universities do not obtain a degree within six years of entering college. And a majority of new freshman does not get a college degree in the four years that most of them expect to acquire it.
All of this must change, and radically, if President Obama’s goal of America regaining its leadership in the world in degree attainment is to be achieved. A lot of attention has gone into the second area of attrition -failure to continue on to college, but less attention has been paid at the college level to the third factor -college drop-outs.

Continue reading Why Are Graduation Rates So Low?

Obama’s Loan Plan – Scary Stuff

Like Caesar’s Gaul, President Obama’s plan for higher education is divided into three parts:

1) Every American should have postsecondary educational training, and within a few years we should again lead the world in the proportion of young graduates with bachelor’s degrees;

2) Federal financial assistance to pay for college should become an entitlement like Social Security or Medicare, available to all in need;

3) The private provision of loans to students should end and the Federal Government should become the provider of student loans.

The American higher education establishment has mostly endorsed this sweeping proposal. As is so often the case, they are wrong. On every count, this proposal is an Obamination – a perverse set of policies that will raise costs to taxpayers and, surprisingly, also to many college students and families.

Continue reading Obama’s Loan Plan – Scary Stuff

Why Students Flee The Humanities

On February 25, 2009, an article by Patricia Cohen appeared in the New York Times: “In Tough Times, the Humanities Must Justify Their Worth.” Its thesis was a familiar one: an economic downturn will lead to a decline in the number of college majors in the humanities because in hard times enrollments shift toward majors with direct vocational utility. The article could have been written 25 or 50 years ago—the phenomenon it talks about is well known. For example, English majors made up 7.59% of those graduating with bachelor’s degrees in 1968, but as the stock market bottomed in the early 1980’s following the Carter economic debacle, that number had sunk to 3.7%. But Cohen’s article is not just a tedious rehash of well-known ideas from the past: it has a more serious flaw. For while this argument could have been and in fact was made at many times in the past, it can not be made today. And that is because the humanities have undergone a profound change that makes Cohen’s entire argument meaningless.
Let’s look first at the statistics. As the economy improved dramatically during the 1980’s, the figure for English majors rose with the economy, reaching 4.7% by the end of the decade. But now the familiar pattern broke down: as the economy continued to get stronger, the figures for English majors began to go in the opposite direction, the first time this had happened. By 1995, English majors had declined to 4.3% of all bachelor’s degrees, and by 2005 they had gone down to 3.7%, the same figure that was seen at the economy’s bottom in the early 80’s—except that the economy had now been booming almost continuously for 20 years.

Continue reading Why Students Flee The Humanities

Overselling Law School

Here at Minding the Campus we’ve been elaborating on Charles Murray’s argument that college isn’t for everyone, and that a college degree—which can cost graduates at least four years of forgone earnings and leave them drowning in student-loan debt—isn’t necessarily the ticket to economic prosperity that it’s cracked up to be. So what?, you might say. If my literature degree qualifies me only for working the cash register at Borders, I’ll just go to law school, because everyone knows that lawyers make big bucks.
Dream on. At the early-January annual meeting of the Association of American Law Schools (AALS), Richard Matasar, dean of New York Law School, blasted U.S. law schools, which can cost as much as $120,000 for three years’ worth of tuition for “exploiting” less-than-successful students by taking their money (usually in the form of a loan) and failing to disabuse them of the notion that their degrees will automatically translate into a high-paying job on graduation. It’s common knowledge—at least among lawyers, law professors, and law students with street smarts—that unless your law alma mater is Harvard or a school of that ilk, you’ve got to graduate in the top ten percent of your class in order to get one of those perks-laden white-shoe-firm jobs that will make the sky-high tuition you paid (plus books, living expenses, and three more years of forgone earnings) worth your while. Matasar called the odds of attaining a high enough class ranking to justify the huge expenditures a “lottery shot.”
As for the other ninety percent, they struggle to get some sort of middling-paying law job after graduation that might enable them to retire their loans within some reasonable time before their own retirement, or they never manage to land a law job and drift into something else, or, worst of all, they never even graduate at all–although they still rack up plenty of student debt before they fail their courses or drop out. According to Indiana University law professor William Henderson, who also spoke at the AALS meeting, a survey of fifty law schools revealed that 20 percent of law students either flunked out, couldn’t find jobs after graduation, or had unknown outcomes. Those dismal numbers nonetheless haven’t stopped law schools from admitting, filling classrooms with, and collecting tuition from students whose SAT scores indicate that their chances of forging successful legal careers are dicey at best.

Continue reading Overselling Law School

Are Colleges “Failure Factories”?

Former Commissioner of Education Statistics Mark Schneider has caused a bit of a stir with a paper in which he argues that colleges are getting a free pass on a huge problem – a very high drop-out rate. Our colleges are failure factories for literally millions of students, Schneider says, and I agree.
To be sure, our statistics on college dropouts are imperfect. Students move from full to part-time status, or change schools, and sometimes get measured as drop-outs when in fact they succeed. The reality is, however, that over half of students entering four year colleges and universities do not graduate within the advertised four year curriculum, and roughly one-third do not graduate within eight years even using better measures of dropping out.
I think there are four major reasons for this. First, of course, there is a small proportion that drop out because of adverse family circumstances that force them into the full-time work force or into caring for relatives. While some claim this is an enormous problem, the vast amount of student loans available has reduced the number of students who drop out for strictly financial reasons. Second, there is more than a grain of truth to the collegiate lament that high school graduates are often ill-prepared, with mediocre qualifications in such basic areas as writing, civic knowledge and math skills. Anyone who has looked at results of the NAEP or TIMSS tests knows that Americans on average graduate from high school with at best a shoddy intellectual base.

Continue reading Are Colleges “Failure Factories”?

A Painless Path To A College Degree

Operators of a diploma mill, convicted of selling 10,000 bogus academic degrees out of Spokane, Washington, are on their way to prison. The Justice department declined to release the names of buyers, saying that it was against policy, but the Spokesman-Review made the complete list public today on its website. The buyers include at least 135 people with ties to the military, 39 with educational institutions and 17 with government agencies, including one from NASA , one from the CIA (a contract employee) and a military adviser working at the White House. Half the buyers were from overseas, with a majority of the “students” from Saudi Arabia. Many bought four or more degrees. The top customer, Anthony McGugan of Barnegat, New Jersey, bought 16, including a masters and doctorate in theology, a masters in social work, bachelor’s degrees in human services and biblical studies and certificates in addiction counseling and social development. A total of 826 purchasers bought at least one PhD. The fictional colleges and universities listed as granting the degrees included St. Regis (the top choice), Valorem, Eucharist Diocese, Cincinnati Technical College, the University of the Punjab and Holy Acclaim University. Some 375 of the purchasers bought high school degrees.

Honorary Degree? Not For You.

The only concern I have about the brouhaha at Washington University in St. Louis over its decision to award an honorary doctorate to one of its most famous alumni, Phyllis Schlafly, is: how come it took Washington so long?

Schlafly has more than enough academic credentials: she graduated with honors and a Phi Beta Kappa key from Washington in 1944 despite working full time, obtained a master’s degree in political science from Harvard, where she was accepted into the doctoral program and would have earned a Ph.D. had she the money (her family had lost nearly everything during the Depression), and after marrying and raising six children, all of whom have successful business, academic, and professional careers, went back to Washington and earned a law degree in 1978. Meanwhile Schlafly put together an extraordinary resume of career credentials as a grassroots conservative activist and formidable writer and debater. Her 1964 book, A Choice, Not an Echo, helped bring about Barry Goldwater’s presidential nomination, paving the way for Ronald Reagan, and also helped transform the Republican Party from a club for East Coast WASPs into the populist force that it is today.

Schlafly’s greatest triumph was her successful battle during the 1970s and 19780s to derail the Equal Rights Amendment, which she believed would write radical feminism into the U.S Constitution. At age 83 she is still churning out books, syndicated columns, newsletters, and radio commentary from her socially conservative Eagle Forum headquartered in St. Louis. The Ladies Home Journal named her one of the 100 most influential women of the 20th century.

None of these achievements stopped a coalition of Washington University professors and campus feminists from trying to shame the university into rescinding its award of doctor of humane letters to Schlafly, even though the degree had been unanimously approved by the university’s honorary degrees committee; as at most universities, honorary degrees at Washington are viewed as rewards for lifetimes of outstanding achievement. Some of the protesters went so far as to picket Schlafly’s home. The main objection to the honorary doctorate for Schlafly – and it’s been irony alert time for professors who claim to believe in academic freedom – consists of Schlafly’s political and ideological views. Naturally campus feminists depise her – Mary Ann Dzuback, head of Washington’s women and gender studies department denounced Schlafly for spending “her entire career speaking against women in the workforce and for them remaining in the home” – but some 14 professors at Washington’s law school, lawyers who have sworn oaths to uphold the Constitution and its First Amendment-protected free speech rights, also issued a demand for the university to withdraw its offer of a degree to Schlafly on the ground that she opposes special legal rights for gays and lesbians and the teaching of evolution in public schools. In the opinion of the 14 professors, that constitutes “demagoguery” and puts Schlafly outside the pale of respectability.

There is indeed a pale of respectability in the world of honorary degrees, and it skews toward genteel liberalism, although many universities seem to try to be nonpartisan (Yale gave an honorary doctorate to its most famous conservative alumnus, the recently deceased William F. Buckley, Jr., a few years ago, and will honor another alumnus, President George W. Bush, this commencement). Most such degrees are noncontroversial awards for genuine achievements in science, the arts, medicine, and business, going to such figures as Microsoft founder Bill Gates, a Harvard dropout who received an honorary doctorate from his short-lived alma mater in 2000. Universities also routinely award honorary doctorates to famous athletes – Hall of Fame slugger Hank Aaron is slated to receive one from Concordia University in Wisconsin this month – or pop-culture icons such as J.K. Rowling, who will receive an honorary doctorate from Harvard. A generous serving of honorary degrees typically goes to the heads of well-intentioned, noncontroversial U.N.-sponsored NGOs in Third World Countries, such as Fazle Hasan Abed, founder of BRAC, a rural antipoverty program in Bangladesh, scheduled to receive an honorary doctorate from Columbia this year.

In the arts, the outspokenly liberal Robert Redford will receive an honorary doctorate from Brown; no such degrees seem to be going to Hollywood conservatives this year (in all fairness, the late Charlton Heston and California’s actor-turned-Republican governor Arnold Schwarzenegger have received a fair share of honorary degrees).

Continue reading Honorary Degree? Not For You.

Do Rich White Kids Win With Affirmative Action?

Color and Money: How Rich White Kids are Winning the War Over College Affirmative Action  by Peter Schmidt

Reviewed by George C. Leef

Exactly how important is a college degree from a prestige school? Many believe that having such a degree is extremely important – a virtual guarantee of success in life. The higher education establishment works hard at propounding the idea that without a college degree, a young person’s life will be one of almost Hobbesian misery and the elite institutions go a step further and portray themselves as the essential training grounds for the nation’s leaders. If you accept those views, the destiny of the nation is largely shaped by who goes to college and where.

Peter Schmidt has swallowed them hook, line, and sinker, which isn’t surprising for a reporter who has been immersed in higher education for many years. In his new book Color and Money he writes, “In modern American society, many of us assume – or at least desperately hope – that the people in leading positions in government, business, and the professions are our best and brightest… How do we decide who deserves such status? Generally, we rely on academic credentials. We entrust the task of identifying and training our best and brightest to our elite higher education institutions…”

Continue reading Do Rich White Kids Win With Affirmative Action?